J Hum Evol. 2011 Dec 22. [Epub ahead of print]
Stature estimation from complete long bones in the Middle Pleistocene humans from the Sima de los Huesos, Sierra de Atapuerca (Spain).
Carretero JM, Rodríguez L, García-González R, Arsuaga JL, Gómez-Olivencia A, Lorenzo C, Bonmatí A, Gracia A, Martínez I, Quam R.
Systematic excavations at the site of the Sima de los Huesos (SH) in the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain) have allowed us to reconstruct 27 complete long bones of the human species Homo heidelbergensis. The SH sample is used here, together with a sample of 39 complete Homo neanderthalensis long bones and 17 complete early Homo sapiens (Skhul/Qafzeh) long bones, to compare the stature of these three different human species. Stature is estimated for each bone using race- and sex-independent regression formulae, yielding an average stature for each bone within each taxon. The mean length of each long bone from SH is significantly greater (p < 0.05) than the corresponding mean values in the Neandertal sample. The stature has been calculated for male and female specimens separately, averaging both means to calculate a general mean. This general mean stature for the entire sample of long bones is 163.6 cm for the SH hominins, 160.6 cm for Neandertals and 177.4 cm for early modern humans. Despite some overlap in the ranges of variation, all mean values in the SH sample (whether considering isolated bones, the upper or lower limb, males or females or more complete individuals) are larger than those of Neandertals. Given the strong relationship between long bone length and stature, we conclude that SH hominins represent a slightly taller population or species than the Neandertals. However, compared with living European Mediterranean populations, neither the Sima de los Huesos hominins nor the Neandertals should be considered 'short' people. In fact, the average stature within the genus Homo seems to have changed little over the course of the last two million years, since the appearance of Homo ergaster in East Africa. It is only with the emergence of H. sapiens, whose earliest representatives were 'very tall', that a significant increase in stature can be documented.